the philosophactivist

Monday, March 4, 2013

Food Justice Part 2: Queering Food Justice

If you’re a person of color with a low income it’s important for you to know that conversations about your ability to access foods, yes, conversations about your very well-being are happening behind your back.  Even if you make a living wage, you might want to know that here in Austin (and in many other metropolitan and even rural cities), policy affecting your community’s food sovereignty is being shaped largely without your input or consent.

Basically, our community , considered the “target population” of many mainstream “food movement” efforts has had little say in if we’d like farmer’s markets, supermarkets, community gardens and access to the knowledge and skills that will help us sustain ourselves.

I’m not saying we’ve never been asked. I’m saying that it’s rare. There are a lot of “allies” who tend to want to take the lead in this movement. They think they have the solutions and know what we want and need. The problem with this is- the food movement operates under a few hurtful assumptions. Some are completely detrimental to the way we view ourselves as a community and as a People. Some are damaging to how we see our identity.

So why is this important to us as QPOC? Because a large percentage of us have a lower socioeconomic status and are therefore more likely to be food insecure. Where we sit at the intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality makes us highly vulnerable and subject to the policing of our food and economic system. Our lack of resources, especially TIME, allows for outsiders (and sometimes even well-meaning allies) to come in and make decisions FOR us- maybe even AS us- based on their assumptions and their own personal beliefs about what will make our community better. Many of these solutions are not culturally appropriate or relevant. Since colonization those in power have been operating under a “one size fits all” model complete with assumed assimilation.  We are being recolonized.

It’s hard to stay on top of decolonizing the various systems that wreak havoc on our communities. How are we supposed to do this when we’re barely surviving? We have to get back to the old ways- the ways of our ancestors. We have to support each other in ways that are sustainable to our own families and communities. It’s time to get back to community kitchens where neighborhoods come together and cook for/eat with each other. It’s time to pay ourselves for growing our own food. It’s time to establish our own black and brown-owned cooperatives where we decide what goods belong in those stores while creating our own jobs and opportunities. No, this isn’t new- it was taken from us. Then denied and withheld from us.

In the colonizer’s model and their capitalism we POC are to continue to have less and less resources yet devote more and more time to supporting these very broken systems that don’t benefit us. All the while we assimilate, losing ties to our cultures while decimating the environment and surrendering our emotional, social and spiritual well-being.

So how do we resist? do we do *more than resist?

Depending on our skills and resources- this may look like you as a single parent feeding healthy food to your children. Yes, this is radical! This may look like participating in healthy potlucks with a group of friends. It’s bartering your services. It’s establishing collectives and co-operatives and therefore creating an alternative economy in which money continues to circulate within our community.  It’s demanding policy change that deters development that displaces our community and exacerbates food deserts. It’s demanding fair wages and supporting black and brown business owners. There are so many ways we can resist and co-create change.

Transformation is occurring as you read this. The revolution is already under way. There are people like Toni Tipton-Martin, founding member of Foodways Texas and author of The Jemima Code, who are committed to reclaiming our foodways and celebrating our cultural and culinary heritage. There are organizations like Food for Black Thought who are committed to supporting local grassroots efforts in black and brown communities in organizing around food related issues in East Austin. There are also alliances forming in East Austin and in Dove Springs to co-create solutions for the lack of access to healthy and affordable foods.

There are also efforts happening across the nation. (And across the world for that matter). Check out efforts in the East Bay like People's Grocery, the Mandela Food Cooperative, Phat Beets Produce, the Oakland Food Connection. There are efforts in Detroit like the Black Community Food Security Network, D-town Farms, and the Ujamaa cooperative food buying club. Will Allen's Growing Power, Inc. urban farms are located in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. In NYC there are Just Food, Farming Concrete, La Familia Verde Garden Coalition, and Black Urban Growers. These are just a small number of the community efforts for food justice led by people of color.

As QPOC living at the intersections we should be aware of what is happening to address access to food because issues of food insecurity affect everyone, whether we want to believe it or not. What can we do as a community to assist in the transformation of our food system? What can we do as a community to better our economic situation? Let’s share some food and exchange some dialogue. We already have the answers.


  1. There were a lot of conversations this weekend about local folks who didn’t come to the March Against Monsanto in Oakland. Lots of this jabber came from predominantly white organizers in San Francisco. -- Why didn’t black and brown folks come out to the march? Why didn’t they come to the San Francisco action? Why aren’t they doing anything? Why don’t the care? They need to wake up!” -- The assumptions-loaded questions (or were they statements) are insulting and simply wrong! More black and brown folks didn’t come out because they were probably working….probably their 2nd or 3rd job of the week. These organizers assume that food justice isn’t on the minds of black and brown folks in Oakland but it is real on a daily basis. Not only are folks stressed about where to get safe food but where to get food at all. The closest grocery store in my neighborhood is a 20 minute bus ride and even if you get there, you aren’t guaranteed to get organic, GMO-free food….in fact, I wouldn’t hold my breath. It’s highly unlikely. One SF organizer even said that having events in Oakland wouldn’t work because Oakland is seen as “violent and gangsterish” so it is “better” to have events in SF, which is the epicenter of the local food justice movement.

    And then there is the issue about welcoming space. I didn’t feel completely comfortable at the Oakland event. While the organizers were all brown, the crowd that gathered was predominantly white. While the scheduled speakers were predominantly black, brown and indigenous, the folks who stepped to the open mic where predominantly white, young, male, and politically alienating. Throwing anarchist jargon at people without context doesn’t work…and talking on and on and on, and then inviting people to an event that requires a 30+ minute bus ride outside of Oakland isn’t helpful. Why isn’t Oakland good enough? I checked all of the event flyers and handouts I received during the rally – none of them were for events IN Oakland. Why isn’t Oakland good enough?

    I am new to Oakland, so I am going to check out those organizations that you mentioned. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for this Kathrin. Let me know how it goes after you check out the orgs!

  2. Great article! I'm left thinking about this part though: "The problem with this is the food movement operates under a few hurtful assumptions. Some are completely detrimental to the way we view ourselves as a community and as a People. Some are damaging to how we see our identity." Maybe I just didn't read carefully enough, but I really wanted to know what some of these hurtful assumptions are! As an ally trying to unpack my privilege and work to bring food security and justice to more people in my city, I really am curious what mistakes I may be ignorantly making.

  3. Hi, I think I responded to this on decolonizing yoga so I'll repost here:

    [someone posted: My guess as a white ally) is that the assumption may be that POC do not know what is healthy for them and/or do not seek healthy options on their own. Other assumptions may be around norms of what constitutes "healthy" (e.g. healthy = skinny) or "healthy foods" (which vary greatly according to place, culture, etc.).]

    I felt this was right on and added:

    I'd also add that assumptions that we don't grow our own food or don't want to would count. There's also not acknowledging people of color's agrarian past. And also the assumption that the majority of folks involved in the food movement are white or white women (when this is only those folks who are "visible"). I'd also add the whole "vote with your fork" thing completely overlooks that sometimes it's not a decision that is necessarily ours if we don't have grocery stores in our neighborhood or "local" and "organic" options in our stores (As Kathrin mentioned). Food stamps also don't go so far at farmer's markets and stores like Whole Foods. When you've got 4 or 5 mouths to feed, who is concerned with "eating local" or "organic" when it's equated with being more expensive? And are we really getting an equal chance to vote with our fork?

    There's also a whole other conversation around the policing of foods that POC eat and the history behind cultural foods, if they're indeed healthy or not, and what is REALLY causing obesity in communities of color. (GMOs,environmental racism, lack of access to healthy foods, poor quality health do to lack of access to health care, etc.) Toni Tipton Martin's African American Heritage class with Old Ways was excellent in helping us to begin to rethink our food history and reclaim our heritage through our foods.

    Also, why are POC so often made to look immoral because of their socioeconomic status which informs their capacity to participate in the larger "food movement"? And why are POC assumed to be ignorant of holistic health and healthy eating?

    I find that the shaming that happens around food choices aren't taking reality (the barriers folks of color and and other low-income folks) into perspective. And that's because the "larger food movement" is championed by mostly privileged middle to upper class white people who do not have the same experience as those folks they are trying to "help" and "teach" and there is the age-old racist assumption that POC can't do for ourselves (and need to be taught) or haven't been doing this work on our own (and need someone to show us how to begin to do this). When what we really need is for more allies to address the barriers we face with structural racism. Barriers like economic injustice and higher rates of employment, higher rates of incarceration and police brutality, our being more likely to live in more toxic areas of town, barriers to health care--and a plethora of other things that inform our health and also, what we can afford to eat.